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Psychology and the Near-Death Experience: A Personal Revelation by Roy Hill, Psy.D


The book you are about to read has foundation in personal revelation. There is a great distinction, I have discovered, between learning facts from a book and learning by experience. This lesson peaked during my clinical training in graduate school. I quickly determined that learning about therapy in a textbook was different than actually doing psychotherapy. Whereas psychology textbooks cover technical procedures, the act of psychotherapy involves the interplay of emotions, personality forces, and personal histories. In my clinical experience, all these relationship dynamics become charged during every session. What was more real to me, reading instructions about how to do therapy or undertaking the process of therapy? The answer is the latter. While undergraduate “book knowledge” provided me with a conceptual understanding to practice my profession, the actual experience of doing therapy was defined by the experience of authentic being. In this manner, therapy became transformed from an abstract, mysterious endeavor, into a tangible, knowable experience.

A whopping 95% of people who report a near death experience claim that their experience was “definitely real,” whereas most of the remaining 5% answered “probably real”.¹ In fact, most responders deemed the near death experience to be more real than their earthly existence. The person who experiences a near death experience (NDEr) does not need scientific proof to know that life after death is real. The vast majority know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that their experience was not a hallucination because their entire being witnessed, first hand, a new reality. Like my experience undertaking therapy, the NDE personally transformed the spiritual realm from an abstract, mysterious consideration into a tangible, knowable reality.

I view NDE reports to be wondrous beyond human imagination. Although I have not personally experienced a NDE, I have had a profound encounter with the spiritual realm that had great impact on my life. In fact, I would say that my experience created a completely new spiritual orientation in my life, perhaps even a revolution of meaning. I will share my story here:

I have worked as a clinical psychologist for nineteen years in several prisons. One of my duties has been to monitor and manage mentally ill inmates. There was an inmate on my caseload who suffered from periodic depression accompanied by hallucinations. The auditory hallucinations, in this case, were generally experienced as unwanted “voices” telling the inmate to kill himself. The voices became more pronounced when the inmate’s depression became worse, generally resulting in the initiation of suicide watch and medications. One day, about twelve years ago, I learned that this inmate’s sister had died as a result of an automobile accident. Knowing this inmate’s propensity for a significant and rapid decline, I evaluated him immediately. Sure enough, the inmate endorsed symptoms of severe depression, suicidal ideation, and voices telling him to kill himself. I immediately placed the inmate on suicide watch. One day passed without change. On the second day, the inmate stated that his depression and suicidal ideation had disappeared. He stated that he was ready to be taken off suicide watch.

There are two clinical questions to ask when someone rapidly improves: “Why now?” and “What has changed?” Rapid recovery sometimes lacks credibility, leading to questions about ulterior motive. Yet, the inmate’s answer surprised me. He stated that his deceased sister was freely talking to him. Specifically, the sister informed the brother that she now existed in a better place and that he should not be grieving for her on suicide watch. She told him that his life had purpose. She also told the inmate that she was allowed to help him out of love. I hesitated and thought about the delicate situation I faced. I was the master of this man’s immediate future. If I made an error on the side of caution, I would unnecessarily be taking away his freedom. If I made an error on the side of haste, then the inmate might attempt suicide. Normally, I make clinical decisions on the side of caution. However, I also knew that auditory hallucinations, especially from those victims who are depressed, are generally cryptic and negative. I had yet to meet any psychotic person who experienced comforting or helpful voices. Yet, here was a man hearing the comforting voice of his recently deceased sister. There was a part of me, too, that entertained the possibility that God might be working through a deceased sister to minister. I made the call to take the inmate off suicide watch on the condition that he would be monitored and that I would see him early the next morning.

The inmate arrived to his appointment as scheduled. I assessed immediate suicide risk factors. There didn’t seem to be any immediate concerns based on his self-report. The inmate’s presentation, or mental status, also seemed clear. I asked the inmate if his deceased sister was still talking to him. He answered, “Yes.”

Then I asked, “What is she telling you?”

He answered, “She is telling me that you do not believe me. And so that you shall believe, she has a message for you.” At that point, the small hairs on my arm stood straight up.

With some trepidation, I gingerly asked, “What is her message?”

He answered, “Quarter.”

I felt completely lost by the inmate’s answer. “What do you mean, quarter?” I asked. “Do you mean quarter of something, like a measurement, or quarter as in the coin?”

The inmate looked at me, shrugged, and said, “I don’t know. I’ll ask her.” So, he sat quietly in his chair and glance askew for about fifteen seconds. Was I supposed to believe that he was really communicating with the dead? Our discussion may have looked comical to an outsider. It would have looked that way to me, if not for the seriousness I felt toward the situation at hand. The inmate looked at me and said, “She says, quarter as in the coin.”

“What does that mean?” I returned.

He answered, “I don’t know. She won’t tell me.”

The inmate left shortly thereafter and returned to his housing unit. About fifteen minutes later, another inmate came to see me on a scheduled appointment. This inmate was a Muslim. On this day he endeavored to teach me, with poorly masked delight, about the hypocrisy of the United States government. During this tedious conversation, he drove his point home with this challenge, “Do you know what is written on a quarter?!”

I immediately answered without thinking, “In God We Trust”.

The inmate pointed a finger at me and said with authority, “That’s right!”

I immediately felt blood rush down from my head. I don’t think I half listened to anything else during the session. I immediately knew the ramifications of the question. The temporal occurrence of the “quarter” revelation could not be a coincidence - no one had asked me that question before. These two inmates did not “run” together. It was unlikely they were colluding to play a joke on the psychologist (not something the inmates typically do anyway). Besides, the question was too outlandishly obscure for them to think up on their own. I rescheduled the inmate to seen for the next morning.

The inmate came to his scheduled appointment. I asked him if his sister revealed any other information. He said, “Yes. She said that your wife is pregnant, you will have a son, and he will be born on Christmas day.” Indeed, my wife was pregnant. Other staff knew about the pregnancy, so did the inmate overhear inappropriate staff conversations? This scenario was possible, but highly unlikely. Moreover, he also had a 50-50 percent chance of correctly guessing the sex of my child. Thus, the truth of his prophesy would be rest on my son being born on Christmas day.

Christmas day came and went without a birth; my son was born on January 7th. For the next eleven years I was troubled about the inconsistency between the amazing “quarter” story and inaccurate prophesy. I came to believe that the dead sister talked to her brother; the quarter message seemed beyond coincidence. The more I thought about why the dead sister had challenged my faith, the more I questioned my questioning. It was not enough that I had enough faith to take the inmate off suicide watch. My belief was partial and subject to verification. Through her challenge directed by God, I learned that partial faith wasn’t really faith at all. Now I was looking at this set of experiences, eleven years later, with partial faith. Maybe I was meant to learn faith by acting in complete faith.

But what did God want me to do? My son was clearly not born on Christmas day. What was I to do with that clear and undeniable fact? I was inspired by a possible answer dwelling deep inside myself. I decided to have enough faith to Google Christmas and January 7th. Amazingly, a number of “hits” came up on the search engine. It turns out that much of Christendom today uses the old Roman Julian calendar. That wasn’t always so. There was a time when the Christendom used the Gregorian calendar, otherwise known as the Christian calendar. In fact, over a half billion Orthodox members still celebrate Christmas on January 7th to this very day.

Reflecting on this unusual experience twelve years later, what does it mean? I believe that the sister’s prophesy was meant to test my faith. Although it took years to pass, my faith metamorphosed from a quasi-state of hope to knowing that God exists. There is a great liberation knowing that my essence has eternal purpose within a divine master plan. For me, subconscious fear was replaced with a stronger state of peace stemming from a greater awareness of soul. I have even used this state of peace as a compass to reinforce my plodding but purpose driven journey towards growth.  The emotional states of anxiety, fear, and hatred have less relevance now. In sum, my heart began to know and my mind started to feel.

I recently attended a funeral for a friend who died of brain cancer. I felt saddened for a few seconds after learning about his death. However, divine knowledge quickly reminded me that my friend had been liberated into a greater existence. Although I frequently miss my friend, I have not felt the weight of grief since I first learned of his death. In fact, I had never felt such an overwhelming peace come over me than during his funeral.

“A Personal Revelation” is an excerpt from Psychology and the Near-Death Experience: Searching for God by Roy L. Hill, Psy.D, published by White Crow Books.

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